Doubt plays like Grey’s in a court­room

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - VERNE GAY

THE SE­RIES: “Doubt”

WHEN, WHERE: Pre­mieres Wed­nes­day at 10 p.m. on CBS

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Sadie El­lis (Katherine Heigl) is a worka­holic de­fence at­tor­ney who al­most be­lieves, word for word, the ideals of her firm’s “lefty” founder, Isa­iah Roth (El­liott Gould), who in­sists that he has al­ways “stood by some­one ac­cused so that he or she would not have to stand alone.” Al­most, un­til her feel­ings for a client, Billy Bren­nan (Steven Pasquale) — ac­cused of killing his girl­friend when both were teens — gets in the way.

Mean­while, Sadie’s col­league Al­bert Cobb (Dule Hill) wants the guy to ac­cept a plea deal, and move on with his life. An­other col­league, Tif­fany Si­mon (Dreama Walker), is a new­bie, and still learn­ing the Isa­iah way. But the firm’s other top at­tor­ney, Cameron Wirth (Lav­erne Cox), knows it cold, and knows in­jus­tice, too. She’s a self-iden­ti­fied trans­gen­der per­son.

MY SAY: The big news with “Doubt” isn’t just rea­son­ably big, but rea­son­ably his­toric. This is the first prime-time se­ries on a ma­jor broad­cast net­work with a trans­gen­der per­son in a lead­ing role play­ing a trans char­ac­ter. A key word here is “lead­ing” be­cause trans char­ac­ters in mi­nor roles have also ap­peared on “Glee” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” while ca­ble (“The Fosters”) and stream­ing (“Trans­par­ent”) have long been in the fore­front of trans char­ac­ters and is­sues. Cox, of course, was the pi­o­neer on “Orange Is the New Black,” once again the pi­o­neer here.

Big news, but a big deal? Con­sider that most CBS view­ers have never seen “The Fosters” or “Trans­par­ent,” and if they had, Freeform and Ama­zon would have alerted us to that re­mark­able fact years ago. This is as rad­i­cally new for them as it is for the trans com­mu­nity.

Cox’s char­ac­ter, Cameron Wirth, quickly es­tab­lishes that she was once a man, now a woman, and, with that out of the way, gets down to busi­ness. She’s a com­pe­tent de­fence at­tor­ney, with a brisk court­room style. That she is a trans per­son is ir­rel­e­vant, ex­cept that it is not, and dur­ing sum­ma­tion for her de­fen­dant client, says: “Do we see him, or do we turn away?”

More gaunt­let than ques­tion, that’s ad­dressed to view­ers as much as jury. Do we see her and mil­lions of other trans per­sons, or turn away? “Doubt” in­sists that we see. So yes, a big deal.

Oh, and by the way, have we even men­tioned “Doubt” is an­other Heigl at­tempt to es­cape the long shadow of “Grey’s,” and the lesser one of “State of Af­fairs”? Her char­ac­ter is first among equals in the en­sem­ble cast, but Heigl also ben­e­fits from be­ing part of that en­sem­ble. This isn’t “State,” where she’s sav­ing the world while try­ing to save her­self. Heigl’s good here, and “Doubt” is bet­ter for the fact that the whole en­ter­prise isn’t nec­es­sar­ily rid­ing on her, ei­ther.

That could change, but at least “Doubt’s” pedi­gree hints that the en­sem­ble stays. Cocre­ators Joan Rater and Tony Phe­lan earned their TV PhDs at “Grey’s,” where they once ran the show and learned that more is more. More char­ac­ters mean more sto­ries, more con­flict, more drama, more de­tours.

With a New York set­ting and all those tan­gents, “Doubt” prob­a­bly won’t mind if view­ers mis­take this for “The Good Wife.” But that would be a mis­take. In­stead, think of this as “Grey’s” in a court­room, with a good New York cast, two leg­ends (Gould and Bill Ir­win, who plays a judge), a TV star and a TV pi­o­neer. Add some boil­er­plate work­place/ro­man­tic TV tropes, top it all off with a pi­lot-end­ing re­veal, mix ‘em all to­gether, then hope for the best.

At least Wed­nes­day’s episode does make the bet­ter case for hope than — apolo­gies in ad­vance for the bad pun — doubt.

BOT­TOM LINE: De­cent court­room/work­place drama, also a pi­o­neer­ing one.


Lav­erne Cox plays top at­tor­ney, Cameron Wirth, in "Doubt," which pre­mières Wed­nes­day.

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